Holiday travel disruption, border control: 9 French travel updates

We also look at efforts to create a single ticket for all public transport in France, a direct Perth-Paris flight, compensation for Paris metro users and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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Pension reform strikes continue to dominate travel news in France. After this week’s industrial action, further dates were unveiled including a nationwide day of protest tomorrow (February 11) and a fifth day of strike action on Thursday, February 16.

It is anticipated that tomorrow’s protest will have little impact on travel. Key public sector workers, including those at the SNCF, have confirmed that they will not strike. Instead, it is a national day of manifestations (demonstrations) so the wider French population can show their opposition to the proposed reforms. You can read more here.

Entire public transport network could soon be covered by just one ticket

France is looking to follow Germany’s lead by offering a single ticket for public transport, which can be used across all networks in the country.

A €49 transport ticket valid throughout Germany is due to launch in the next few months and will be available as a monthly subscription. The ticket will be valid on most means of public transport, apart from long-distance trains and long-distance buses.

And France is not far behind. Transport minister Clément Beaune hopes to get a similar scheme off the ground within two years.

"When I put forward this idea, I was told that it would take at least 10 years to do this but I am convinced that in the space of two years, we can develop the single ticket everywhere in France," he said in an interview with 20 Minutes.

Read more: Macron announces RER commuter train project for 10 French cities

To that end, the government hosted a ‘hackathon’ (an event that brings computer programmers and other interested people together for rapid and collaborative engineering) in Paris this week (February 7-8) to mobilise all French stakeholders and develop a solution.

The winning idea will be supported via the Agence de l’innovation pour les transports and could be available on a trial basis in some departments from the end of 2023.

Mr Beaune said the single ticket could be a digital one or in the form of an app.

“We will also have to take into account people who are not familiar with digital technology, who are older or less used to this type of solution and who will also need to be supported,” Mr Beaune told 20 Minutes.

“Germany has done this in recent months. They have developed both a new app and paper tickets for people who are less familiar with digital technology.”

He added that the idea of a single ticket is not “starting from scratch”, citing Navigo in Ile-de-France and Korrigo in Brittany as examples of how the scheme already works at a regional level.

Heavy holiday traffic expected in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Holiday getaways are forecast to bring travel misery to roads around Alpine ski resorts this weekend, particularly on Saturday (February 11).

Traffic service Bison Futé is warning of difficulties on the roads serving winter sports resorts in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes as the second week of school holidays in zone A (Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon and Poitiers) overlap with the the first week in zone B (Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Normandy, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes and Strasbourg).

Read more: MAP: where in France do you now need winter tyres or snow chains?

Bison Futé has classified the region as red in the ‘departure direction’ (towards resorts) on Saturday, with "very difficult" traffic. In the ‘return direction’ (towards regional cities), on the same day, the area is classified in yellow, corresponding to "difficult" traffic.

It recommends avoiding the A43 motorway in the ‘departure direction’, between Lyon and Chambéry, from 11:00 to 17:00 as well as the N90 road, between Albertville and Bourg-Saint-Maurice, from 11:00 to 17:00.

In the ‘return direction’, Bison Futé recommends avoiding the A43 motorway, between Chambéry and Lyon, from 11:00 to 18:00.

Sunday should be much more fluid, with the whole country showing green or ‘usual’ traffic flow.

Arrivals to UK told to prepare for half-term border disruption

Holiday travel into the UK is also looking problematic at the end of next week, with UK Border Force strike action between February 17-20 set to bring disruption to ports and the Coquelles Channel Tunnel Terminal in Calais.

Read more: France-UK ferry travellers told to expect disruption later this month

On Thursday (February 9), the UK government issued a press release promising “extensive planning to minimise disruption”, including training military personnel, civil servants and volunteers from across government to step in.

They will be present at airports and ports across the UK and not only at the locations directly impacted by strikes.

The statement warns that although the strike action directly targets inbound travel to the UK from the French ports of Calais, Dunkirk and the Coquelles Channel Tunnel Terminal, as well as to the Port of Dover, “all those who are due to travel into any UK port during the proposed strike action should be prepared to face longer wait times at UK border control and check with their operator before they travel”.

Steve Dann, Border Force chief operating officer, said: “It is disappointing for travellers that yet again strike action may cause disruption for those entering the UK.

“Border Force’s number one priority is to keep our citizens safe and borders secure. We are working together with partners across the travel industry and our French counterparts to ensure we can continue to meet critical demand and support the flow of passengers and goods through our border.”

RATP passengers compensated for poor quality of service

Users of Paris’s public transport network will soon be able to claim reimbursement for difficulties encountered at the end of last year.

News of the compensation came on Thursday (February 9) to make up for the 25% of scheduled buses that did not run on the RATP network during the last four months of 2022, as well as 10 to 20% of metros. The problems were largely due to driver shortages.

“The refund will be €37.60, half the old price of the Navigo pass, for all users who can prove that they purchased three-monthly passes between September and December 2022,” said Valérie Pécresse, president of Ile-de-France Mobilités.

Read more: Paris Navigo public transport monthly pass to rise by 12% in 2023

Navigo Annuel, Senior, imagine R Student and School pass holders are also eligible for compensation. However, weekly passes or single tickets are excluded from the scheme.

In addition, users of certain sections of the RER B and D lines that have experienced major difficulties in recent months can claim a refund of between half a month and a full month's Navigo pass, in some cases amounting to €112.80.

In all, some 3.4 million passengers are potentially eligible. They will be notified by email before the refund platform opens on March 14 and will have one month to claim.

UK/French transport secretaries meet for discussions on border control system

The implementation of the EU’s new Entry/Exit System (EES) was the focus of talks between UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper and his French counterpart Clément Beaune in Paris this week (February 9).

The EES is a digital system which will track the arrivals and departures of non-EU visitors to the Schengen area. It was due to be rolled out in May, however it is now widely thought that the start will be put off until later this year.

It will collect data from people’s passports, including date of birth and full name, as well as fingerprints and a photo (on first entry to the EU after its launch), entry and exit dates, and information concerning refusals of entry to the EU and/or orders to leave.

The EU has stated that the main aim of the EES is to save time. Yet, some have warned the new system may initially cause long queues and waits at airports, due to the extra information that needs to be collected.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

In a press release, the UK government reaffirmed its commitment to “maintaining reliable, quick, and safe travel routes between France and the UK” and said it would work alongside the French government to ensure any new system works for both countries and passengers.

Read more: Plan to ease launch of EU Entry/Exit system with app pre-registration

While in Paris, Mr Harper also met Eurostar’s CEO, Gwendoline Cazenave, and was shown the company’s operation at Gare du Nord.

“The meeting shone a light on the important connections international rail services provide for millions of people each year, as well as the need to address border-related challenges, prevent lengthy queues from forming, and support the future growth and success of the sector,” a government statement read.

Read more: Eurostar border fears, new flights, SUV tax: 9 French travel updates

He also met with Getlink Group, which manages and operates the infrastructure of the Channel Tunnel and Shuttle services between England and France, to signal the UK’s willingness to support preparations ahead of the implementation of EES.

SNCF app extended to some city networks

The SNCF Connect app, which lets you book and pay for train journeys on your smartphone or other mobile device, can now be used to purchase public transport tickets for 22 local networks too.

The expansion, which includes tickets for bus travel, is part of a bid to reduce the number of apps a passenger needs per journey.

It is now available for local transport networks in Angoulême, Annecy, Arras, Avignon, Beaune, Belfort, Bourgoin-Jallieu, Caen, Cholet, Cognac, Draguignan, Evreux, Guérande, Les Sables d'Olonne, Maubeuge, Menton, Montbéliard, Nevers, Saint-Brieuc, Saint-Lô, Saint-Nazaire and Saintes, with more towns promised in the coming weeks.

For most smartphone users, it is also possible to buy tickets for the Île-de-France Mobilités network, including weekly or monthly Navigo subscriptions, bus tickets to airports or the t+ ticket.

"It means, for example, that a person from Ile-de-France who wants to go to Caen can plan and buy a ticket from SNCF Connect to go to Paris Saint-Lazare station, then his TER Nomad' between Paris and Caen, and finally his bus or tram to travel to his destination when he arrives in Caen," said SNCF Connect & Tech.

You can find the new function by clicking on the ‘billets’ tab on the app’s homepage, and then choosing ‘autres villes’ in the ‘vos cartes et titres urbains’ section.

When you get on the bus, all you have to do is present the QR code associated with the ticket.

Read more: Railway station ticket-stamping machines to be phased out in France

Qantas in talks with Air France to launch direct Perth-Paris route

The possibility of flying non-stop between Paris and Perth, Australia is one step closer, after Qantas confirmed it is in talks with Air France to open up the new route.

Qantas already flies direct between Perth-Rome (seasonally) and Perth-London, and its CEO, Alan Joyce, told Perth radio station 6PR that the airline would like to expand the service to other cities in Europe.

“We want to do Paris and we’re talking to Air France and other European airlines about how we could do that,” he said.

Read more: Why Americans are choosing Air France flights over US airlines

However, launching the flights could still be a long way off – Mr Joyce said that Perth airport's lack of space and facilities currently prevents Qantas from adding more long-haul direct flights from there.

“We’re trying to resolve [this] with the customer authorities and the airport,” he said.

Ferry returns to P&O Dover-Calais fleet after re-fit

P&O Ferries has reintroduced one of its ships on the Dover-Calais crossing following a re-fit.

The Spirit of France returned at the end of last month (January 30) and means the ferry company now has four boats in service on that route, reports KentOnline.

A spokesman for the firm said: "P&O Ferries aims to provide customers with the best possible ferry experience and in line with these aims we undertake an annual refit of our ships in the Dover-Calais rotation.”

Read more: France urged to follow as UK launches ferry fair pay law after P&O row

Meanwhile, delivery of P&O’s newest boat P&O Pioneer, is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The 230m long ‘double-ended’ vessel, which should enter Dover-Calais service this spring, has been designed to improve turnaround times by removing the requirement to turn in port.

It will become the largest ferry ever to serve the Dover-Calais route and will be joined by sister ship P&O Liberté later in the year.

The new boats will replace Pride of Kent and Pride of Canterbury.

EU allows 5G mobiles to be used in aircraft

The European Union has cleared the way for 5G mobile phones to be used in aircraft, which should allow passengers to use their phones as if they are in a city – as long as the aeroplane has the right equipment.

The development could negate the requirement to put phones on ‘airplane mode’ - although the specifics of how it will be implemented are still uncertain.

Airplane mode was originally introduced because of fears mobile devices might interfere with automatic flight control systems. Experience, however, has shown the risk to be very small.

Until now though, not many phones in passenger aircraft cruising at 10,000 metres were able to connect to land towers because of the distance between the phones and towers.

Some airlines have fitted satellite receivers in aircraft to allow mobile phone connections, but they usually charge a lot for this.

The decision to allow 5G connections will mean that aircraft can now be fitted with satellite receivers able to handle 5G technology.

When it works, this will allow connections on aircraft which will be potentially much faster than ADSL landline connections – but it is likely that airlines will charge heavily for use.

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